Is Being Overly Healthy An Eating Disorder?

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Is Being Overly Healthy An Eating Disorder? featured image

You know the one: the woman who’d rather go hungry than eat something she deems unhealthy. Is it your coworker? Your friend? You? The willpower and conviction can seem admirable, but some experts are now saying that there’s an extreme side to such restrictive eating, and it’s worthy of being considered an eating disorder.

While anorexia is an avoidance of food in order to get thinner, orthorexia is an obsessive discrimination against foods the sufferer considers unhealthy in order to achieve what he or she believes is a pure, healthy state. Time recently spotlighted the story of one patient, who refused to eat anything that wasn’t certified organic.

Although there’s nothing intrinsically wrong with choosing to follow a certain kind of diet or lifestyle, such as vegan or raw, it’s putting that choice before one’s own health, ironically, that has the Eating Disorders Coalition pushing to have orthorexia added to the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders.

Dr. Steven Bratman is said to have coined the term orthorexia in 1997, and he came up with the list of questions below, with an emphasis on the first two, to help determine if someone is suffering from this increasingly prevalent disorder:
•Do you care more about the virtue of what you eat than the pleasure you receive from eating it?
•Does your diet socially isolate you?
•Do you spend more than 3 hours a day thinking about healthy foods?
•When you eat the way you’re supposed to, do you feel in total control?
•Are you planning tomorrow’s menu today?
•Has your quality of your life decreased as the quality of your diet increased?
•Have you become stricter with yourself?
•Does your self-esteem get a boost from eating healthy?
•Do you look down on others who don’t eat the way you do?
•Do you skip foods you once enjoyed in order to eat the “right” foods?
•Does your diet make it difficult for you to eat anywhere but at home, distancing you from family and friends?
•Do you feel guilt or self-loathing when you stray from your diet?

Many doctors are reluctant to consider orthorexia its own eating disorder, believing it’s a version of anorexia or ultimately leads to anorexia; but a growing number of facilities are creating programs specifically suited to this kind of condition, and those behind and benefiting from those programs hope the DSM will soon include orthorexia as a stand-alone entry.

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